glass notes
Pick of the Week: The Sound of a Voice

In 2003 I was a simple Philip Glass fan living in my hometown area of Boston.  At that time I was something of a fairly newish fan to Philip Glass' music.  This is to say that I was doing everything I could, in the throws of infatuation, to find performances of his music.  At that time, a local presenter called Crash Arts would present different Philip Glass shows almost every season. My first Philip Glass concert was the initial tour of Dracula with the Kronos Quartet circa 1999/2000. 

The following seasons I got to see Koyaanisqatsi and music from The Screens.  In 1999 the Boston Lyric Opera mounted a production of Akhnaten which I regrettably didn't go to. I laugh today at the thought that I was intimidated by opera and felt only safe enough to go to see the BLO's production, my first opera, of le Nozze di Figaro instead of Akhnaten.  

This is to say that it was pretty slim pickins around Boston for a Glass fan and has only gotten worse since I left there in 2004.  However, 2003 was the last time a work of Glass' premiered in Boston and it was at the American Repertory Theater (a part of Harvard University) which had previously presented and commissioned the premieres of The Juniper Tree, The Fall of the House of Usher, and Orphée, that commissioned and premiered two new Glass operas:  The Sound of a Voice and Hotel of Dreams.

At that time it was in fact two one-act operas but since it's been changed to one name "The Sound of a Voice."  I realized it somewhat at the time that this piece is quietly but hugely important in Glass' work.  2003 was the same time as The Hours.  It was before Glass' career as a main stream film composer took off (strange to say a composer was discovered by Hollywood when he was 66 years old) and the film offers came rolling in. 

The subject matter of these "death plays" right up Glass' alley.  Musically, I remember thinking at the time how close to Sprechstimme the vocal writing was, as well as the unorthodox instrumentation which they advertised as "Eastern."  Glass stated that he was interested in the challenge of writing for instruments which didn't play chords: flute, cello, pipa, and percussion.  Anyway, you could tell that in every way this piece was challenging to compose and the reward came in experiences the opera(s).  The work was done a lot when it was new, as it was done in Chicago after Boston and somewhat recently it was done in Pittsburgh.  This clip comes from Italy and David Henry Hwang's libretto has been translated into Italian which will make it easier to listen to for some. 

The opera has never been released on recording save for a 20 minute suite was which released on "from the Philip Glass Recording Archive, Vol. I: Theater Music" in which the vocal lines are replaced in an arrangement by the composer.

1 thought on “Pick of the Week: The Sound of a Voice”

  1. Hi Richard. Glad you liked our production of these operas.However, it will be nice to give credit where credit it’s due. There is no mention in your post of the staging director, Valter Malosti, who did an outstanding job with scenes lights and costumes, nor is mentioned that the musicians playing are Ensemble Sentieri selvaggi conducted by yours truly (I think we also have done a pretty good job with Philip’s score, I know he was pleased with the performance). The singers are Roberto Abbondanza, (baritone) and Chiharu Kubo (soprano).
    Thanks and many greetings from
    Carlo Boccadoro

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